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Recently, I've got into the world of video, mostly using the video function on DSLR cameras. Maintaining a steady picture isn't as simple as using a standard video camera, as unlike these, DSLRs do not have the same image stabilisation built in. There are several solutions to this, including custom, handheld rigs that can cost hundreds of pounds. As I'm starting out, I'm not ready to invest or to learn how to use such a thing, so I've gone for a monopod which should help me get a little more stability, and it only cost £8.49.
A monopod is also great for anyone getting into photography, it's especially useful for taking photos in low light without a flash, where a steady hand is required to avoid blurring. Also, unlike a tripod you can jump from place to place without having to fold it up and down, making you more manoeuvrable. I use tripods too, when I'm going to be static filming for a long period of time, which of course makes you completely stable. The monopod eliminates most shake and minimises camera movement. The other downside compared to a monopod is, that you can't let go.
I decided to go for this monopod from Konig, primarily because of the cost. £8.49 is a ridiculously low price considering it also comes with a case and included postage. And by looking at the 80+ reviews on Amazon, most people were more than impressed with the quality too. The monopod at its shortest measures 60cm, but extends to 178cm. This is way above my head! I was really pleased about this, which I didn't realise until I unpacked it, because this will allow me to get overhead shots, using the articulating screen on my DSLR. You can of course adjust it to any height between 60 and 178cm by collapsing the leg to your desired height. The leg comes in 4 sections and they securely lock into place using a flip-lock mechanism.
The monopod is made of an aluminium construction and feels very rigid when fully erected. It also comes with, what I thought would be a very handy footrest, which folds out. In use, it kind of just flaps around (I now secure it to the monopod with an elastic band) and it doesn't reduce any forwards/backwards movement as it's quite loose. I suppose it could be an extra lifeline, if you forgot what you were doing and took your hand off the monopod.
The Konig Monopod itself weighs 600g, but can support a camera up to 3KG in weight. When I carry it around in the supplied bag (black, single zip, fairly cheap material, shoulder strap) it's so light you can barely notice your carrying it.
Putting the camera on top, a slight concern I had was the quality of the tripod head and handle. It seems to be made of a very cheap plastic, with no quick-release base plate. You just screw it into the camera's tripod mount. As well as tilting the whole monopod, you can use the handle to tilt the camera up and down. Although it feels cheap, I'm sure the very expensive camera that's attached to it will be fine (fingers crossed)
If you're thinking about buying, this or any other monopod, I can recommend it because they're really quite versatile. Want to take an aerial photo or video of your family? Put the camera in timer mode, then place the foot of the monopod on your chest, whilst holding it half way up for a super high angle shot. Alternatively, say I want to film something at a very low angle, for example, to give the viewpoint of an animal walking along, I hold the monopod upside down, with the camera almost touching the floor. (I then flip the image 180 degrees in my editing software)
There are some downsides to this monopod, but they're not worth complaining about when it's so cheap. Ideally I'd like a loop-strap at the top of the monopod in case it slips from my hand and the head and mount is cheap. Maybe I should have paid more for these features. Still, it's a great monopod for the price, and if it lasts me a few years I'll be perfectly happy!
Usually, when you buy a memory card, it comes in a small plastic case which is perfect for protecting the card when flung in a bag and stops dust and dirt hitting the elements.
The trouble is, when you start to have several memory cards, they get lost, you can't work out what ones are used and which aren't and it's handy just to keep them all in one place.
I was attracted by the 7Dayshop memory card case as I liked it's smooth brushed satin finish and it looks like those metal cases used to carry around film and photographic equipment. It measures W11cm x D7cm x H2 cm.
It's a simple clamshell design with 8 slots for SD cards, used by most cameras currently on the market. Inside, the interior is made from a dark grey rubber material and cards push in to exact sized slots. As a handy way of establishing which cards have been used, I usually put them back in the case with the front label faced forward.
The case feels very strong, but the clasp and hinge are made from plastic. The hinge is actually just a thin piece of folded plastic and I'm wondering how many instances of opening and closing the case will take before it starts to come apart. The front clasp is secure, but also feels cheap.
Despite this, it will hold my memory cards well and will protect them in the case of them being dropped. I don't have high hopes of it lasting a very long time, but for £4.27 if it lasts a couple of years I'll be satisfied.
The case is advertised as being water resistant, and I'm sure it would be fine if held under the rain for a little while, but in an ideal world, I'd be able to get one which is sealed and waterproof - you never know when you could drop it in a puddle, destroying all your videos and photos. I'd also want a case with a better quality hinge and lock. It sounds small, but the contents on the cards can be pretty precious to me! Perhaps there'll be a more indestructable one on the market by the time this one breaks. Tick tock...
BTW, the description Dooyoo have use states 'Camera Case', - I have notified them,
A few years ago, I was asked to film a friend's wedding. Using a couple of cameras, I held one while the other was placed on a tripod in a different location so I could get two angles. I bought a cheap "Hama" brand tripod from Jessops which stood 160cm high, came with a case, the usual three legs and worked fine. If you only need a tripod for occasional use, then something like does the job. If you're going to use a tripod regularly and particularly for video, then I'd recommend getting something of a higher quality.
Everywhere I looked on forums, people were telling me that a decent tripod was the best investment you could make when shooting videos. Considering there were several other items I wanted first (new camera. batteries, memory cards etc) I took the advice, but stuck with the cheap Jessops tripod for a while. Although a top quality tripod can cost over £300, I had seen many positive comments about the DV-7000 model made by Velbon. I'd also seen a proffessional recommend it in a video as a good starter tripod, so at £85 on Amazon, I thought I'd give it a shot.
It comes in a nice, thick cardboard box and is sealed in a plastic bag with no carry-case. The first thing that struck me was the weight, it's heavy. 3.4KG, compared to the Hama tripod which weighed only 1.7KG. Although this makes it feel streets ahead in terms of quality and sturdiness, it's heavy to carry around. The maximum height is pretty much the same at 162cm, and collapses down to 70cm when folded up. The unit is designed to support a camera weight of up to 4.5KG. The legs have a width of around the size of a 10p piece and are in three sections which can be extended as high as you wish and locked in place using a quick, flip-lock mechanism. To ensure the tripod is level, there's a bubble-level on the top of the tripod.
The legs also open really wide (sorry, can't think of another way to say that) meaning you can add more stability if you need it. The lowest operating height is 57cm high which is a achieved by not extending the legs and splaying them as wide as possible.
My favourite bit of this tripod is the fluid head. It's made of plastic, but feels sturdy. The head is oil filled which enables you to get really smooth pans from left to right and up to down, the resistance can be altered using a screw control at the side. My only niggle is that there's a little slack in the motion, and this slight movement can be visible in videos, so you have to be take that into consideration when panning. To get even smoother pans, one tip I learned to make them even smoother is to attach an elastic band to the control handle, creating an elasticated mini-strap. This using the band to eases the motion and removes any shakey hand movement which could be visible in your work.
The camera is attached to the tripod via a quick-release plate which screws into the camera tripod thread which snaps into a locked position on the tripod to be removed quickly if necessary. The quick release plate can be screwed into the camera by hand.
Well having climbed one step up the tripod ladder, I certainly could not go back to the cheap Jessops tripod. You can't pan or tilt the head smoothly at all and it looks so flimsy in comparison, I'm worried it will blow over in the wind! Perhaps as I progress, I'll go for a more expensive "Manfrotto" brand which is likely to be of lighter construction with a superior fluid head. At the moment I plan to get a second Velbon DV-7000, which is currently a bargain £69 on Amazon, cheaper than I paid last year. My only niggle is that it doesn't come with a carry case, and I'm finding it difficult to find one that fits, for a reasonable price.
After a leg fell of my Velbon mini tripod (tragic I know) I decided to buy myself one of these flexible bendy tripods that I'd seen out and about. Going on holiday, I didn't want to be without the tripod as you inevitably end up with the scenario of just one of you in the photograph giving people the impression that you have no friends and travel alone.
After some research online, I worked out that I was after a Joby Gorillapod. Presumably named because it's flexible legs can cling onto anything like some kind of primate hanging from a tree branch.
So, three legs (no surprises there) each made up of 10 connected plastic balls which can be bent and contorted into any shape you like, on each joint there is a white, horizontal rubber mini-band which provides grip all the way up the leg. As well as hours of entertainment of creating various insect shapes, this feature makes it much better than a standard tripod.
Firstly, normally you'd need a level surface to set up a tripod, not with this. By bending the legs you can attach the gorillapod to almost anything such as vertical objects like railings and trees (small ones) and with the special grippy legs, it's very unlikely you'll set up that perfect timed shot, all stand back and watch your camera smash on the floor. Instead of 'resting' the tripod, you can now secure it in place giving you that extra bit of reassurance.
Another nifty feature on this tripod is the removable head. Like a much larger tripod, there's a base that screws into the camera and this slides into a groove on the top of the tripod. I just tend to leave the base plate on the camera permanently, making the setup really fast. The whole unit also seems really sturdy. It seems like you could drop it, bend it as much as you like without it breaking.
Joby makes gorillapods in various sizes and colours (the leg bands come in red, blue, green etc but the main body is still black) . I used mine for a standard small, compact camera so their basic 15cm tall model priced at £11.12 currently on amazon was perfect for my needs. For some reason, mine arrived in just an envelope wrapped in bubble wrap, whereas in shops, I've seen them in plastic cases. There were also no instructions, not that you'd really need any. For a price lower than the high street, it really didn't matter.
Overall I'd recommend. But if you're buying it as a gift, the presentation in just an envelope isn't perfect when purchased from some sellers on Amazon.
As someone who gets through a vast number of in-ear headphones, (they are currently lasting a couple of weeks max) I was marginally disspointed that these iLuv earphones lasted only three days, a personal record. I seriously don't know what I'm doing wrong. Okay I run and go to the gym wearing them and walk large distances, but without fail I always start to hear the sound dissapearing in one ear flicking in and out before dropping out completely, leaving me left with a hopeless pair of mono headphones.
I bought these from Argos for £14.99, they seemed to have positive customer feedback and they looked rugged, which is important. I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible, during an undoubtedly short relationship.
The headphones are white and are advertised as "made for iPod", which is a ridiculous statement as they're as compatable as any earphones with a 3.5mm jack. I suppose, being white, they at least look partially like the original pair that came with your iPod or iPhone. That would be true if they didn't say "iLuv" on each ear. It seems like such a tacky brand, and for someone who would never write words like "luv", "nite", m8, "ur" etc, I felt slightly stupid having "iLuv" printed on each earhole.
One unique thing about these earphones is the cable. It's a pretty much standard length of 1.3m, but is flat, like a long piece of tagliatelle which they claim makes it easier to untangle, which they were, on the two occcassions that I got to untangle them.
The earphones are the in-ear style where the device actually fits right inside your ear, held in with removable silicone mushroom shape ear pieces. In the packaging there are are two replacement sets of different sizes to cater for all ear types. Having them in-ear makes them able to cut out more background sound than usual. They had a good level of bass and a sharp treble tone which made them on parr with the standard white headphones that apple ships.
Of course they broke within three days and I didn't get a replacement pair. I am going to mark them down one star for this, as I would expect with my unique handling for them to last 2 weeks at least. Of course this is probably a one off, and won't happen to users more careful than myself.
As a recent subscriber to Spotify, I'd created several rather wonderful playlists to annoy everyone with whilst on holiday in Italy a few weeks ago. The trouble is, the speaker on my iPhone (and every other phone I imagine) lacks any bass or volume, so I was looking for a little mini speaker to pack in my suitcase.
First port of call, Amazon. With 1400 reviews averaging 4.5 stars and priced at only £12.79, I wondered how I'd never even heard of the XMI X-mini II, people are clearly flocking for it, and like the sheep that I am, It went straight in my basket without really looking at anything else.
Of course I did browse the specs before committing, and it really has more useful attributes than I ever thought were available. Firstly, two things I hate, batteries and mains chargers. When an electronic device runs out of batteries, chances are I won't have replacements to hand, or won't be bothered to go out and source the correct ones and the gadget will probably just sit in a box and never get used. The other thing about battery powered stuff, there's the cost of replacing batteries which makes me use the object less. Charging cables - I have so many all tangled up in a box (with the unused battery toys) and I can never work out which one pairs with which device.
The XMI X-mini II has none of these annoyances. Like a mobile phone the battery is built into the speaker and it charges via USB using a standard USB-Mini USB cable which I have 100 of already, and if you don't, there's one supplied. Of course, if you don't have a computer with you, a mains USB adapter can be used.
I found that one charge lasted the entire two week holiday, I don't know how long it lasts, I haven't run it dry yet! (actually they say it lasts 11.5 hours on a single charge.) The speaker and cable both come in a handy little drawstring bag which has a velvety feel.
The little speaker measures 6 x 4.4 x 6 cm and weighs just 82 g and can be used with any iPod, iPad, iPhone, Non i Device, Discman, Walkman, MiniDisc (remember them?), anything really with a 3.5mm audio jack.
So how does it sound? Well after reading the gushing reviews about it on Amazon, I expected the room to be filled with booming sound like Wembley Stadium- which it doesn't and I was a bit disappointed. But really what was I expecting for under £13? On the plus side, it's still pretty loud, much louder than my standard iPhone speaker and the sound clarity is fair. If your friends have them too, you can loop them together to creatie a daisy chain of speakers making a bigger sound.
One evening we were playing cards on the balcony though, listening to some holiday classics (Mr Saxobeat) and I decided it was the best purchase I'd made for our travels and disregarded my initial response to the sound quality. It was really so handy, so light and portable. Just perfect for what I needed and I can't wait to bring it away with me next time.
Recommend it - totally.
These days, so many devices run off USB. Since it was developed in the 1990s, everything from mice, keyboards, digital cameras and printers use the interface to communicate and exchange data with our computers.
If you're anything like me, you've continually got your head lodged behind your computer rummaging amongst a nest of tangled cables, deciding which USB to whip out to plug in your iPod. Then of course you disconnect the mouse or external hard drive instead which screws up everything. My computer has four ports, laptops generally have two or three. In the past, I've even broken USB ports by continually plugging in and pulling out.
To save wear and tear on your computer, games of USB roulette and for general neatness and organisation, I'd recommend getting a USB port.
With the Trust 10 Port USB 2.0 Desktop Hub, by sacrificing one USB port on your computer, in return you'll get 10. The hub is slightly longer than an iPhone and about 15mm deep and moulded from silver and black plastic. It sits flat on your desk with 5 ports at the front, 4 at the rear and 1 on the side. It connects mini USB to your computer and the cable is supplied (about 1m in length). The base of the hub also has four mini rubber grips meaning it doesn't slide about. Due to the fact, you're now potentially running 10 devices through 1 USB, this is too much power for the computer to supply, so the hub is powered from the mains. Power is highlighted with a small blue LED. Being powered externally is quite annoying if you're trying to be as portable as possible, and it's probably possible to connect several low-power devices through 1 usb, such as a mouse, keyboard and a printer without it being mains operated. If you're charging a phone, powering a hard-drive and transferring pictures from a digital camera, mains is best. Both 'self powered' and 'bus powered' (power comes from computer) are available so you'd need to consider which is right for you. Larger USB hubs are usually self powered due to the number of ports.
I bought the Trust USB through Amazon for £14.49, delivery was quick and packaging was minimal - although it did come in a dreaded plastic clamshell only penetrable with industrial scissors.
I'd certainly recommend this USB hub, there are other cheaper ones available but this seems excellent quality and although I've only owned it a couple of months, it seems very reliable and I couldn't live without it! The hub runs of the current standard of USB2.0, although new connection technologies such as Thunderbolt and USB3.0 are becoming available, so many consumer products run on USB2.0 and it's not going away any time soon.
Essentially, this is a trackpad, designed to replace, or be used in conjunction with a regular mouse on an Apple computer. It's been on the market since July 2010 and has multifunctions similar to those found on the trackpad of the latest Apple MacBooks.
The trackpad has a stylish brushed aluminium surface and measures roughly 13 x 13cm and is designed to sit flush with Apple keyboards, such as the Apple wireless keyboard. The entire surface of the device is 80% larger than the touchpad on the MacBook and is one giant button. It's powered by two AA batteries and is completely wireless, connecting to the computer using bluetooth technology. It works on all Apple computers running Mac OSX Snow leopard 10.6.4 or higher
When you activate the trackpad for the first time, the new bluetooth device is detected by the computer instantly, and the preference panel opens allowing you to fully customise the gestures, along with instructional videos.
Being one large button, you can click, or double-click anywhere on the surface. As well as behaving in the same way as a traditional trackpad, it also recognises new gestures. These include:
Two finger scrolling - scroll up and down any visible window by moving two fingers up and down the trackpad
Pinch to zoom - certain mac applications support this, such as iPhoto, hold two fingers on the trackpad and pinch apart to zoom in.
Rotate - use two fingers to rotate object using a rotating motion
Three finger swiping - allows you to move forward and back pages (in applications such as Safari browser)
Four fingers - push four fingers upwards to view all your open applications at a glance (expose)
Plus others! It's surprising how quickly you get used to these functions and how much easier it is to navigate your computer with a little practice. I personally run both the mouse and trackpad side by side.
The trackpad retails at £55, or comes as an option with the new iMac.
The Redcastle Hotel in Inishowen, Donegal is set in splendid, secluded surroundings amongst parkland and overlooking Lough Foyle. It's a four star establishment and offers a nine hole golf course, restaurant, function rooms, pool, gym and spa treatments.
We drove from Belfast, which took about two hours, but from Derry it's only about an hour away and is well signposted from the road. You'd really need a car to get here though, it's very remote and the area did not appear to be served by public transport.
On entering the hotel, I was lugging along a suitcase of emigration proportions, which was very difficult to force through the narrow revolving doors. As an attractive hotel, I think they could do some work on the lobby, at the moment it's all a bit 'Asda', which is a shame. Once I'd got all my belongings inside, we gave them to a very helpful porter who took them to our room. The interior of the reception looked pretty modern, but very slightly tired. There is free internet in the lobby which I was pleased to discover.
The room was really very pleasant and had everything you'd expect in a four star hotel. TV, Ironing board, nice lighting and everything was very clean. On a negative, things again were looking a bit shabby with multiple hair straightener burns on the dressing table and the odd bit of stained upholstery. The TV was the old 'box variety' and the signal was very poor on most channels. It didn't matter of course, and didn't spoil my stay. We were with a wedding party so had a room overlooking the lough. The view was beautiful as the hotel is on the very edge of the water. Lying on the bed, it feels a bit like you're on a boat!
On the website, they advertise free internet throughout the hotel, infact it only exists in reception. The rooms are served by the company 'bitbuzz' and is expensive for a limited number of minutes.
One evening we ate in the restaurant, which offers a simple menu of regional specialities. The service and the quality of food was superb and we were given a table overlooking the bay. Breakfast is a help-yourself affair with coffee bought to the table. They had everything you could ask for, including cooked breakfast, porridge, cereals and pastries.
Although we didn't try the golf course, or spa treatments, we did use the pool which was a lovely way to relax after a long day, and again the location made the most of the views. The water was also nice and warm which I liked. The spa area was clean and well maintained.
On one day we were at a wedding, held in a function room on the ground floor of the hotel, again positioned for good views, and although I won't review the wedding itself (but was fantastic), I thought I'd pass on a comment a lady made to me in the lift the next day. She said that she couldn't hear us at all upstairs, (despite us being pretty rowdy) which is a sign that hopefully you would not get disturbed by any event that might be hosted at the same time.
In recent months the management has changed hands, and has split away from the Carlton Group. Therefore I'd expect that they're working on sprucing the place up a bit. Overall we had a lovely restful stay there for four nights, and as well as the wedding were able to explore the area including a day out to Derry and Giant's causeway, via the ferry at Moville.
I'd recommend this hotel - room prices vary, but can be purchased for as little as 60 euro a night (room only)
So I've owned the Logitech Squeezebox radio for about 18 months and use it as a bedside radio and it's still something I really enjoy using. With the price currently at just over £100, you might think this is a little excessive when you can buy a clock radio for under £10 from Argos.
So what's so special about this radio? Well, there's no DAB or FM tuner, it's just an internet radio. And what's great is, you can listen to almost any station from anywhere in the world. If you live abroad or a long way from home, you could wake up to a local radio station from where you grew up, or one of the millions of niche music stations available. Of course, all your standard stations, (BBC etc) are there too. Finding stations is easy, you can search by country, city, genre, or name and store them under the six preset buttons next to the display for quick access.
Connected via your wifi network or ethernet cable, there are many other internet services which can be accessed too. If you subscribe to Last.fm or Spotify (monthly subscribers only) you can stream music direct from your account. These services are accessed through 'apps' which you can download to the device. Other 'apps' available include a podcast service, Flickr and Facebook.
With regards to Facebook, have you ever thought it might be nice to wake up to the face of your ex, or an old school friend, or perhaps your mum? Well with the Facebook app for the Squeezebox, every day can bring an alarming surprise as your facebook photos, or friends' profile pictures play in a slideshow on the device via it's 6cm colour screen while music is playing (or always when on standby if you wish). When I tell people about this little feature, you can just see the look of "what has the world come to?" on their faces.
As well as playing music from internet stations, you can stream music from your own mp3 collection over your home network. If you have a PC or Mac turned on and install a small program called "Squeeze center", you can browse and play all your iTunes playlists and audio files. You can also remotely control the radio, which has many uses. Say you were in the kitchen on your laptop, and wanted your son to get out of bed, how about blasting the sound of a power drill at high volume through the radio's speaker? (sound effect app available to download free). You could even alert people from the other side of the world as long as there's an internet connection.
In terms of the design, it's a very smart looking device with a high build quality. The dimensions are 13 cm x 22 cm x 8.5 cm, has a black front with the outer shell available in black, white and red, although I've only ever seen black in stores. The casing has a very high shine, which means it gets dusty constantly, which is just one small annoyance. There is one mono speaker, which sounds good even at a high volume. There are two main dials, one for navigating the menu system and the other is the volume. One reason I like this as a bedside radio is because the volume increments are very small so it's easy to get precisely the level you want. One slight downside is, that you'll need a good internet signal where you plan to use the radio. Sometimes the sound cuts in and out if the connection is weak.
The Squeezebox radio is just one of several compatable products available, so it's possible to have a network of speakers all streaming the same music in different rooms of the house.
I like this product, though sometimes it's hard to take it seriously. I guess it all depends on the way you use it. Not everyone wants Facebook or remote control, but the infinite choice of music available means it's unlikely you'll tire of the Squeezbox radio
Keyboards don't come any sleaker than Apple's wireless keyboard. Housed in an aluminium enclosure with white keys, the device measures only 28cm (L) by 12.5 cm (D) and has a height of around 2cm at it's highest point. The keyboard works with all Bluetooth enabled mac computers and the iPad.
But being a stunningly attractive piece of hardware comes at a cost, you loose usability and functionality. For those who type on a standard PC keyboard, you might find the Apple wireless keyboard very small, a bit like a laptop keyboard. There's also no way of adusting the angle of the keyboard like you'd find normally, it's one height fits all. Laptop users may not find this such a problem. This particularly annoyed me at first, but after several weeks I got used to it.
One benefit of this keyboard is it's wireless capabilities. Not only does this free wires and clutter from your desk, you can also sit with the keyboard quite a distance away from the screen. Sometimes I have it on my lapwhile controlling a dvd on my iMac a couple of metres away. The keyboard connects to your mac or iPad through bluetooth, on my mac it's automatic. When the computer is on, the keyboard is on and there's no need to connect them each time.
The wireless keyboard, is a very useful accessory for the iPad where typing a long message or essay is difficult on the touch screen keyboard. Connecting to the iPad requires you to go into settings, select "general" then "bluetooth". When you turn on bluetooth, the keyboard should show up under your devices. You then enter a short code generated by your iPad to confirm the connection.
In terms of power, the current model requires only 2 AA batteries, and the keyboard powers down automatically when not in use. The batteries seem to last a fair while. I use the keyboard for perhaps an hour on most days, and I replaced 2 energizer batteries after about 10 months. On the mac, you get an on-screen warning when the batteries need replacing, so you should never be caught without a keyboard suddenly.
One thing missing from the wireless keyboard is a numeric keypad (at this point I should probably mention that the picture attached to this review is not an Apple wireless keyboard) which is annoying if you're using it for financial purposes with programs like Excel. Apple make a keyboard with numeric keypad, but this is wired.
The keyboard does however feature some function keys along the top row including access to Exposé and Dashboard, as well as volume control, stop, play, pause for iTunes etc.
Overall, it's a neat little keyboard which I enjoy using and I'm willing to lose some features for it's nice appearance, lack of wires and small desktop footprint.
The Apple TV is a small, palm size digital receiver that plugs into an HDTV via HDMI cable. Launched in September 2010, it's almost a completely different device to the 2006 predecessor and allows you to stream content from your computer, iPhone,iPad or iPod touch direct to your TV, as well as the ability to view select internet channels such as Flickr and YouTube.
I was delighted to receive the Apple TV for Christmas and it was incredibly easy to set up. In the box is the tiny receiver which measures about 10cm squared, with a height of 2.3cm, a sleek aluminium remote control, the mains power supply and a small instruction manual. Not included is an HDMI cable, which you'd need to buy separately. Incidentally, the Apple TV only works with the newer flat screen TVs with an HDMI port, although I've read that it's possible to connect via SCART if you purchase an adaptor.
So when you've plugged it all in and powered it up, you follow the on-screen instructions which take you through language options and connecting to your home wifi network (you can also connect via Ethernet too), then after any software updates have been installed, you're ready to go.
The menu interface is really very simple, UK users scroll across the options of Movies, Internet, Computers, and Settings. In the movies tab you can watch trailers and rent movies from Apple's catalogue, these stream in 720p High Definition with 5.1 surround if you plug your speaker system into the Apple TV's optical port. Prices of movies vary, but a typical current release HD film costs £4.49, and you get 48 hours to watch it. I personally found this rather expensive, and the choice of films is poor. They certainly have nowhere near the choice you'd get from your video store, or a service like LoveFilm. Also here, you can also watch trailers of current and forthcoming releases at the cinema and I particularly like this feature.
I spend most of my time in the 'Internet' tab. Here you can watch videos through YouTube which is excellent on the big screen, especially as many YouTube clips are now uploaded in HD. Sometimes you forget that the content you're watching is from YouTube, the quality is so good. Here you can also listen to podcasts, internet radio stations, view photos from your Flickr page and connect with your content on MobileMe, Apple's subscription cloud service. As the Apple TV is connected to the internet, updates are periodically provided by Apple meaning aspects of the operating can change and be updated. In the March 2011 update, users were given the new option under 'Internet' of 'MLB.TV' a subscription baseball service meaning you can watch live games in HD with the ability to pause and rewind. Non subscribers can still access scores and statistics. This is all very well, but backs up my view that Apple TV caters mainly for it's US customers. (more later).
In the computers menu, you to your computer (PC or Mac running iTunes), where you can stream content to the Apple TV. You can access your music collection and play it all through your living room speakers in the best quality. Also any movies, TV shows or home videos stored on your hard drive can be shown if they're saved in your iTunes. Although streaming music works fine, streaming video is an incredibly slow process and quite often I've just given up. While streaming music, you can set a screensaver to come on (from the settings menu) which can show photos from your your collection using various animated slideshow settings. It's really very pretty. Also within the 'computers menu' you can browse and display all your photos.
Another key feature of the Apple TV is 'Airplay' which allows you to stream content directly from your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad directly to the Apple TV, be it music, videos, photos or YouTube content (videos from other sources apparently in the pipeline). Any visitor to your house can show you their holiday snaps for example, just by broadcasting them to your TV.
Overall, I use and enjoy the Apple TV regularly, but it has some significant shortcomings. Firstly, Apple TV seem completely focused on the American market. There you can rent movies through companies like Netflix and watch TV shows on the Apple TV, no such deals have been set up in the UK. Also does the UK need subscription Baseball? It's a very niche market. One good thing about the Apple TV is that through software updates it can evolve. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw services such as BBC's iPlayer or LoveFilm rentals on there at some point. (although launched 6 months ago, and I'm still waiting)
Also the fact that everything has to be 'streamed' is quite annoying. There is a USB connector, but at the moment it has no purpose (Apple say it's for service and support), so it would be good if you connect an external hard drive (a big selling point of Western Digitals WDTV). I live in hope!
To summarise, for what it is, it's a fun device and at £89 on Amazon currently, it's not going to break the bank and hopefully remote updates will allow it to improve over time.
As part of a new year's resolution to get healthy after a gluttonous 2010, I decided to use the 'dead time' (and also very unpleasant time) on London's tube system commuting to and from work as an opportunity to improve my health and fitness by making my journey by foot. With this new way of life came the requirement for a new bag. I needed something large enough I could put my gym kit and lunch in and something secure and sturdy enough that would allow me to walk to and from work and run home a couple of times a week the distance of 3.5 miles.
The 'twentyfourseven' comes in different sizes of 10/15/20/25/30 Litres. I chose the 25 litre version, which would probably be considered a little large for running (measuring 50cm (H) x 29cm (W) x 28cm (D)), but I needed to fit in my stuff and the extra weight would help burn calories. As a running backpack, it's actually excellent. The back of the bag is padded, with a 'flow system' which draws moisture from your back and keeps you nice and dry. There's also fully adjustable and padded shoulder straps and an essential waist strap. If you pack the bag carefully, when you run it's attached solidly against your body and doesn't move at all. If you're not running, you can just sling one strap over your shoulder and it's fine for that too.
The bag also has two front vertical zip compartments, one slightly larger than the other. The larger pocket contains a clip to attach a keyring to and a smaller internal pocket suitable for a purse or wallet as well as a couple of pen slots. On the sides there's a couple of small elasticated net pockets which I sometimes put small bottle of drink in, but these are on display to the general public. The final external pocket is a small, narrow net pocket on the front-right bag strap. You could probably fit a pen or chocolate bar in there.
The main compartment is accessed by two zips which pass right around the edge of the bag, allowing you to open it up fully, and have the opening where you choose to position your zips. Note to potential runners: don't leave the two zips at the top of the bag. Somewhere in West London is a pair of my trousers which fell out of my bag due to the zips slowly undoing while running. Zipping to the side is safer! Internally is another compartment at the back of the bag which is useful to separate dirty clothes. I sometimes put my towel in there to further cushion my back while running. At the top of the bag is also a small exit flap which you can feed through headphones, or drinking straw/hydration system.
The bag is a smart navy blue and grey with 'Berghaus' logo positioned vertically on the top right hand side. (Other colours available are red and cranberry). Construction seems to be durable, strong and lightweight, withstanding my abuse well, being constantly overstuffed and shaken about. I haven't got the bag wet yet (as if I'd run in the rain?), but other reports online sugest this bag is good at keeping it's contents surprisingly dry.
Overall I recommend this bag, I'm not sure I'd have kept going until March (and continuing) if it didn't make the experience so much less painful. If it lasts me another year, I'd almost certainly purchase another.
Prices online from £25-£30.
I've spotted a trend with Apple product releases recently, not only do the company draw you in with their impressive can't-be-without gadgets, but also a range of clever accessories which are seemingly necessary to get maximum enjoyment out of the product. The iPhone is fragile, you have to have a cover. The iPad's screen needs protecting, so there's the magnetic cover for that too. I'm sure all future releases will come with an optional array of rainbow coloured, Apple branded accessories as well.
I bought the iPhone on the day it came out last year. I reserved it and queued up patiently at their Westfield store. At the time I decided I didn't need a cover. My previous iPhone didn't have a cover and only had a few scratches, so I didn't think it was worth the £26 for what is essentially a small bit of black plastic, which is all it is.
Soon after, "antennegate" happened, where some users complained that the signal strength fell when holding the phone at the bottom left hand side, so that your hand connected the spot where the phone's two antennas joined, causing dropped calls in areas where the signal which was weak. This personally wasn't an issue for me and I think this was probably over hyped by the media. Still when Apple offered customers a free case to resolve this issue, I chose the official Apple bumper.
The bumper is basically a small ring of rubber measuring 12 x 6 cm which locks around the phone, with the outer layer being moulded plastic the same colour. At launch, only the black colour was available but you can now also get green, orange, white, pink and blue. The side controls still function with metal buttons built onto the device which press the relative buttons underneath. There are also holes for the dock connector, speakers, headphone socket and silent button. Although I've got used to this, the silent button is now fiddly to use (need nails to flick the switch below the case) and some headphones will no longer fit through the small hole in the bumper. To charge or use a docking station, you need to remove the case which is something I do often. Despite it's continued use for a year with me continuously pulling the phone in and out of the case, it's held together with no snags or rips and almost looks as good as the day I bought it. Although I have the black bumper, users of the coloured versions report discolouring of the plastic through continuously pulling them in and out of pockets etc. Despite being prettier, I'd recommend the black bumper for this reason.
From a protection aspect (which really is what the bumper is designed for), I can relax a little more about having something so expensive in my pocket. A few times I've dropped my phone on the floor in a toilet or something and I'm sure it's prevented a few scratches and chips. Of course the glass front and back of the phone are not protected. If this bothers you, you can get plastic stick on covers to protect the device further, however from my point of view, they spoil the look and functionality of the phone. I want to enjoy it and if I get the odd scratch, so be it!
Since launch, hundreds of third party cases are available at a fraction of the £26 charged by apple and although I can't comment on these I'd certainly investigate before paying a small fortune for the apple branded cover. Although excellent, it's not anywhere near the value of it's price tag.
I remember when I bought my first Olympus digital camera back in 2000, it took 1.3 megapixel photos on a 64 megabyte memory card which cost a fortune, and could only hold 32 photos. These days, photo resolutions have increased to around 6-10 megapixels and memory cards have huge capacities and are a fraction of the price.
I have several Transcend memory cards of different capacities which I have been using over the last few years and none have failed. The 8GB, class 6 version has over 300 reviews averaging 4 stars on Amazon, it appears to be one of their most popular and the price is very competitive, currently retailing at £10.70 plus free delivery. With so many brands available, competition is fierce and the cheapest place to buy memory card is online in my view.
In the early days there were many different types and size of memory cards, and although there are still quite a few, it appears that the "SD" format is becoming the industry standard for new cameras, camcorders, mp3 players and games consoles, with the "miniSD" and "microSD" popular with mobile phones. Although all standard SD cards are the same dimension (32 × 24 × 2.1 mm), they are named according to their capacity.
SDSC (or just SD) = Standard Capacity (2-4GB)
SDHC = High Capactity (4-32GB) - (The Transcend 8GB SDHC Class 6)
SDXC = (32GB-2TB)
The Transcend 8GB SDHC will hold around 3800 6MP photos, or 2280 10MP photos. Of course the exact number will depend on the camera. If you only plan to use the card for photos I wouldn't recommend getting a higher capacity memory card than this. I know so many people who have several years of photos on one memory card and only view them on the small camera screen. It encourages lazyness, and what would happen if you lost the camera? Such a capacity would allow you to take many photos and videos without worrying.
I personally use this card in a Canon HD camcorder recording in AVCHD format. Recording in Full HD at (1920 x 1080) you can record 40 minutes of footage. Personally I wish I had gone for the 16GB version as 40 minutes isn't really enough for my purpose.
The SD "Speed Class" is a standard that indicates the minimum guaranteed data transfer speed of SD/SDHC memory cards. When choosing a new memory card, look for the Speed Class logo on the package which is a number contained within a large "C". The speed you need will depend on the device you are using. Generally speaking, with a standard compact camera, the lowest speed class will be fine, so read the instructions to check, and don't pay extra for a faster card than you need. My Canon camcorder recommends using a class 4 or higher, so this class 6 Transcend card is fine for that purpose. If you're using a DSLR camera and enjoy taking continuous bursts of photos, you'd probably want one of the higher classes of SD card. A Class 10 card for example, will allow data to be written to it much faster without the delay between shots that a lower class card might cause.
Aesthetically, the card is bright blue with a multicoloured sticker displaying the card's characteristics, and comes in a fiendishly difficult to open plastic shell case, although Amazon now supplies this in it's "hassle free packaging", designed to be easy to access and better for the environment.
Overall, it's a great card for the money paid and continues to serve me well, and I'd recommend it!